Tag Archives: gentrification

Marfa Part III: El Paso


I relate to this tumbleweed.

Marfa, Texas has become a mile marker in my life.  Since my first visit July of 2014, I’ve already been back (now) twice.  The first time I arrived, I was ready for a change but had no idea what that would be.  The result of that first trip: minimalism and improved communication.

I only waited till December to return, for my thirty seventh birthday, to mark a commitment to myself.  Of course I had been on three dates with someone I knew I was going to fall in love with, so the alone birthday, remembered by the guy at home with birthday cake emojis, was followed by returning to officially start a relationship.

So you can probably guess that by my next visit, about sixteen months later, I was six months out of that new relationship.  Therefore, Act Three.

My readjustment to single life included an aggressively social (read: distraction and situational alcoholism) period followed by taking on a second job bartending.  Life was a seesawing amalgam of bored days in an office and too late nights with both ends of my candle burning more than I thought I could mentally manage… except I was managing it pretty well (never mind the associated adult acne).  I also tried to fit in having a social life. I gallantly attempted to date one extremely frustrating guy, was blown off by a few others after promising first encounters, and, enjoyed at least a little bit of seduction I didn’t regret afterwards.

I both relish and dread solo travel depending on the circumstances.  The thought of visiting a foreign country alone?  Relish.  Another wedding in another state I’ve already been to?  Dread.  This one, I was on the fence.  A road trip, some nature stuff, potential camping, potential Mexico, and a music and art festival in Marfa.  All wonderful things, but the fun would be compounded by fun company, and none was available.  Then again, I’d been having a lot of fun at home.  I wore myself out before the trip with work and interaction, to make sure I’d reach the moment of “fuck yes” once I was in the car alone.  And I did.

In Marfa, I spent two nights in a trailer at El Cosmico (my most prominent home decorating influence).  I had my own outdoor shower and took naps on the window seat-esque second bed, propped in its Bolivian blankets and pillows, the sun streaming in on me.  The actual bed was cozily tucked into the back of the trailer with more patterned blankets and down.  It was heaven.  I went out those first two nights, to the bar I’ve spent much time in there, and to an art opening with a band playing outside (another “I’m definitely in the right place” moment – the art and the music and the air and the night time all so perfect).  It wasn’t until I got home to Denver that I realized the guitarist in that band, who looked familiar all week, was someone I’d met at a pivotal point in my life fifteen years earlier.  So Marfa.


L.A., January 2001.  Me and that guy.

January 2001: One of my oldest best friends (I now work at his bar) and I had met this guitarist at “The Smell” in downtown L.A.  We’d seen his band play, for which he played theremin and I called him “Mr. Switchboard”.  My friend and I were invited to a party of the band’s high school friends at a unique house in Eagle Rock – an Ewok house for its several outdoor walkways.  We decided to make a music video of the band the next weekend, in Santa Cruz.  And then some combination of being too lazy to drive there and me (during the in between weekdays) meeting a new dude I slept with on the first date prevented us from doing it.  I’ve often since thought of it as the exact moment I took the wrong path in life – some guy I slept with too soon taking precedence over my creative pursuits.  The theme of my twenties – and I still emerged from them single!  A line between then and now was drawn.

I chatted with people at the events in Marfa, and visited some with people I know there.  But I really wasn’t trying to join anyone’s group.  Partially because I had a modicum of awkwardness about being solo and not wanting to burden myself on anyone, and partially because it just didn’t feel that important.  Yeah, it all would have been nice with someone else who really appreciated it, like me.  But that’s the kind of relationship I wasn’t going to form in a weekend.  It felt necessary to be alone, to reacquaint myself with it in my favorite place.  And to fully realize my last love, no matter what he’d said – he was never really going to come there with me.  Ever.

Saturday morning I had to set up my tent for the inevitable night of camping due to booked accommodations and finances.  I was nervous about the weather, the wind, the cold.  A guy at the campsite was kicking a soccer ball around shirtless by himself.  I thought, “that’s just like what my ex would do… show off with his shirt off… ”  He had eyed me for a couple days before he finally broke the ice that afternoon at the Chinati arena.    He was kind, sitting on a skateboard, having made the trek from Phoenix without a companion, and inspired me to pull my own board out of my trunk on the most beautiful, sunny, 75 degree day there.  I felt blissfully young and free despite the lack of smooth concrete in town, and enjoyed some border music outdoors, a shower in the late afternoon sun, and laying on my tent bed with a feeling of actual relaxation.

My last night in Marfa was the big Mexican Summer showcase, at a venue I hadn’t been to yet called the Capri.  The Capri was beautiful – like all the beautiful new things I like there. It has large outdoor concrete pools, fires, and a concert space like a big open garage.  But it felt a little too nice, with Denver priced cocktails.  My first night in Marfa ever I’d gone to the Lost Horse and watched a cowboy band in the dirt backyard where you sit on stumps.  I never wanted it to not be like that.  Another more “Texas” spot I’d frequented was closed at the moment.  The show was great, and the cute friend I’d made seemed even younger. Despite all raunchy exclamations I don’t think I can ever bring myself to be interested in a man in his twenties again.  I mostly watched the band alone, then rushed back to my tent to cozy up and fall asleep before everyone came back and started making noise.  It worked.

The next day the wind was howling, my cute young friend caught a ride with me to the bookstore for the first event of that day, the release of a joke local newspaper.  Some people I knew casually were hanging around the store, and the paper featured stories about the locals I’d seen or kept in touch with since 2014.  The bookstore was housed in the brand new hotel.  I looked up at it – a large concrete box looking thing reminiscent of the rampant new construction in my city.  “I hate it.”  No questions.

I’d decided to go to El Paso instead of spending another night camping… anywhere, and especially, alone.  I was ready to see some people I know and there were some playing there that night. As one of my last errands in Marfa, I returned a book I’d borrowed the last time I was in town.  The odd reaction I got from the lender caused me to note that I hadn’t seen much of her posts on social media lately – she’d been one of my main news conduits from Far West TX.  I realized I’d been unfriended or blocked – I assumed because of my association with someone she’d had a falling out with.  That supposedly offensive person led me via email to the home he is building in town.  I swung by and checked it out before hitting the rock shop (rose quartz for my homies), filling up at Stripes and heading to ELP.  Here’s another potential resting place here, I thought about the house, knowing I’ll continue to come back and eventually be a partial resident.

I left Marfa thinking – even here the same issues that plague me in Denver can happen. Huge new buildings are built.  Rents are raised.  People who come to town spend their whole day instagramming themselves.  Drinks get expensive and bars stop consisting of dirt yards and stumps.  People unfriend you on social media for dumb reasons.  Can’t stop the world, even in Marfa.

I had booked a hotel in ELP just that morning and was pleasantly surprised with a rooftop heated pool and a 75 degree day, wind having died down after practically blowing my nose off my face in Marfa.  It was the fucking highlight of my trip.  All to myself, bikini in March, sun, water, sky, dreams.  I walked around El Paso and it reminded me of Detroit a few years ago, or even Denver when I first moved back in 2008.  Like, just a little bit of something about to go on, but not quite happening yet.  I felt like I was in Mexico because once I walked a few blocks I didn’t see any other white people, had a weird Clamato drink with peanuts and vegetables in it (major food experimentation for me), and then discovered a store with the kind of Mexican shit I always want to buy and couldn’t even find in Ojinaga last year.   That night, after dinner with my Detroit pal, I danced alone watching a band I’ve been going to see since I was twenty five.  It was kind of a perfect day.

After waiting an hour for the cool Mexican shit store to open so I could buy a new hat and a Mexican dress the next morning, I drove all the way home like a true road warrior, with a quick detour to White Sands National Park – perhaps the most instagrammable place in the country.  I was exhausted but willing to make it all the way there to save some money and savor my last moments of freedom in the uncontaminated world of my car.  I’ve reached this point – I can be alone again.  And I am really alone again in that I feel like me.  I feel whole and clear and ready for the next thing.


At least I have clothes on.  White Sands National Park, March 2016.

The next day my body finally crashed from the traveling, the elements, the constant pace, though full of my own desires and moments and rest.  I woke up from an epic nap thinking: “I’m so fucking bored.”

Yup, I feel like myself again.  And I went back to work.











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Modern Residences for Sale: Denver Reinvented Itself and I Wasn’t Invited (Part II)

Part II

Backtracking a bit, when I planned my Denver move in 2008 I pictured myself in a cute duplex, the kind I remembered seeing in my past life here. I’d have my own washer and dryer, ample street parking, and a backyard. I was surprised and felt ripped off when I landed in a garden level apartment (we didn’t even have garden level in Detroit) for $675 a month in an awesome neighborhood. I was constantly defending that I didn’t live in a basement. “It’s garden level, like, true garden level. With windows as big as the ones upstairs.” I did have a dishwasher and free laundry across the hall from my front door, but I’d been living in a veritable palace in Detroit for $400 a month, (even though I did have to use the laundramat, something I swore I’d never do again). Everything was more expensive, and I was making less money. But, I had parks, and the Cherry Creek bike path, and the sun. It seemed like a reasonable trade off. I also didn’t have vagrant crackheads ringing my doorbell at 11am on Sunday asking for money for their AIDS medication.

I lived in that garden level apartment, with the exception of part of 2010, until 2013. When I moved, the rent was raised to $800. The apartment was less than 500 square feet, with a family of three above it. I was making a lot more money, had gotten an Ambien prescription due to my upstairs neighbors, and had ample spending cash I was willing to let go of to make the jump to a small two bedroom place on the fringe of Potter Highlands. A place I realize I am very, very lucky to still be paying the same rent on over two years later.

I’ve pretty much engineered a perfect Denver life for myself. I live 12 blocks from my office and 6 blocks from my boyfriend. I go home at lunch frequently to eat and let my dog out. I don’t ever have to leave my neighborhood if I don’t want to. And I often don’t want to these days.  Where could I go that I won’t feel constantly assaulted by too many people, noises, and events? It’s all creeping up 38th Avenue to me now.  I figure I’ve got a couple years before the nice amount of things to walk to in my area becomes too many things too close to my apartment, but I actually can’t leave my rental.  Where would I go without paying rent I find against my religion of being a sane person who doesn’t like to get ripped off?  I recognize myself being in the position of having a perfect Denver life that will fall apart the moment I move out of this apartment or neighborhood.

This trend towards Denver becoming an increasingly unaffordable city brings me to another topic – the city’s culture reflecting its economics.

For several years people have been trying to get me to go to the Denver Cruisers. I remember sitting outside at Root Down a few years ago with my sister (mother of three visiting from rural Wisconsin), and the Cruisers were going by with their costumes and noisemakers. My sister was like “what the hell is that?” Feeling disgruntled, I told her it was the epitome of this town… “It’s like, an adult playground. It’s where adults come to work to live and not the other way around.” At the time I felt like I would never fit in here, as passionate about my media career and intellectual as I am, though active, I’m not a mountain climber or mountain biker and I’m fine with skiing just a couple times a year.

And I have a major problem wearing a costume if it’s not Halloween.

Over the past few years, the invitations to things like a “color run” and kickball games with beer and costumes keep coming, and I keep declining. I felt like a buzz kill but maintained “not really my thing”. Friends who visited from Detroit marveled at the slackline at my office – “that’s illegal in Detroit” – and two of the “Carrots Five Ways” at The Populist being a gel and a foam. And these are people who travel internationally, go to different cities frequently, etc. In Detroit you just don’t get too fancy, it doesn’t make sense in that environment.  Or didn’t when I lived there.

On the most recent Kentucky Derby day, I walked my dog at night and felt the strength of just the last year’s change. The neighborhood was dotted with young men and women, teetering drunkenly in their finery, having discussions about who was holding the cocaine on porches while sharing a cig. Derby parties were another thing I’d never heard of until a few years ago. Why did I have such a problem with these things, I wondered? I like to have fun and I love parties; ask anyone! As a single person a few years ago, I bought tickets to events I thought I should attend to be the young urban professional on the town that I was, as well as to potentially meet men.   I often regretted wasting the sixty dollars on a ticket because, usually, I was bored, and I’d had to scrounge up something to wear to an event that ultimately felt like another work function.

A few days later I was jogging at Rocky Mountain Lake Park and passed one of Denver’s ubiquitous kickball games, complete with costumes, tube socks, and micro brews. It hit me: “this is just so WHITE.” People I mentioned this to were offended. Other white people like me had a problem with me using white to mean “privileged,” like, in the “white people problems” way. I mean, I’m obviously white and I’d be lying if I represented myself as anything but an upper middle class girl whose parents put me through college. I am lucky and feel grateful every day to not have student loans.

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone here that Denver is mostly white people. Take this from someone who lived in a city that was 75% not white for many years – I can tell the difference (you can also look at median incomes from census data if you need any information about privilege as I’ve described it being white). The whole thing – the kickball/fun run/derby thing – just smacks of privilege. Buying a costume, not even for something you HAVE to go to, like a wedding or something, but just the act of buying special clothing for theme events and parties, or just to celebrate a horse you haven’t even met in person and are watching on TV. It’s just so fucking privileged.

When I ran in Detroit people would occasionally stop and ask me why I was running. I don’t think I’m equipped to even comment on why someone would think that (because I know I can’t begin to fathom how different it is to grow up in inner city Detroit than in Chelmsford, Mass., where I’m mostly from), but my perception is that when you have bigger things to think about than muscle tone like working more than one job or caring for your children you’re not sweating working out.  It doesn’t even occur to you.

I’m all for fun but it irks me in a “first world” way that people dress up to ride bikes or play kickball. Or that they willingly run in a 5K where people are going to throw paint on them. What the fuck.

It’s just not what I signed up for when I came back to Denver. I’ve experienced different flavors of American metropolises as an adult – New York, Los Angeles, Detroit. In the coastal cities, I always had this feeling like, “this is a place for rich kids”. Kids that could afford rent in those cities while making $275 a week – therefore they were able to take the plum jobs working for Brian Grazer or someone like that. Detroit was, of course, a very different experience, and a very inclusive one for me that I valued greatly. I came back to Denver thinking, the weather’s better, it’s not too much more expensive, and it’s still a city, but not so gritty. And, I won’t run into any of my ex boyfriends here! Denver had this sleepy quality and just enough things to do along with its old identity, the kind I associate with the vintage signage on Colfax, Lakeside Amusement Park, and “Gennaro’s” on South Broadway (a place that let me sit in the bar and drink cokes when I was nineteen… they had a Guns ‘n Roses pinball machine).

Now I’m not sure what the identity of Denver is – it’s just growing too fast to have one. I’m just one person, but I fear it’s more costume kickball than stock show. (I love the stock show and to me that’s classic Denver.)

I always wanted to live in a city. My adolescent fantasies were built on CBGBs photos from the seventies, and, later on, the type of urban bohemian living I imagined Sofia Coppola and Chloe Sevigny to maintain (I now know this was rich white kid stuff.). I thought it was about being immersed in the kind of culture you can only find in cities – not stuff that had to do with playground games and beer and “basic” stuff I was trying to escape when I left my hometown. Stuff that had to do not only with seeing great art and music but meeting people different from me.

I know it’s not just Denver – this is happening everywhere. It’s great for cities to be modern and it’s great that people are moving back into them, except when we’re shutting out the people who made them interesting to begin with. And, though I’m not a native (I have lived in Colorado for longer than any other place at this point in my life but I’m an admitted nomad), I still think I am one of those interesting people. Like, an around the way girl and a neighborhood girl. I never thought I’d feel shut out of Denver like I did in Los Angeles after a couple years. Like I always did in New York. But it’s happening – only here it’s not just about price – it’s about culture too.

Read Part I Here.

P.S. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @interstalking.  Thanks!

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